Whoa, where did 2014 go? My mother always told me that time got faster as you got older, but I never really took her quite so seriously until this year. It just seems like a week or two ago I cranked out one of these, but here we are again. Your old buddy Ron has some ideas for your holiday wishlist about the things he knows best: Japan and video games.
Money is No Object
Japanese bathrooms are totally different from American ones, and not just in appearance but also how they function. They are more than a simple paint job and pretty tiling. To do the job right, you’ll have to tear up your entire flooring, rework the plumbing, get a deeper tub, and even take out your toilet.
In Japan, the bathroom is a shower, and all of the water empties through a drain in the middle, hence the new elevated flooring you’ll be needing. Half of the room is a deep tub which can generally bring the hot water up to your neck. The other half is an abundance of space where you can scrub yourself down using a shower towel.
And after a long day, Japanese culture sees people bathing more at night than in the morning, who wants to stand up? Most bathrooms come with a nice stool to sit down and relax while you are cleaning yourself.
Water temperature is also important, and Japan realizes that the price of keeping water warm can be expensive, especially during the winter months. Most Japanese bathrooms come with a wall panel that will allow you to set a constant maximum temperature. Turn it on, wait a minute, fill your tub with the temperature you want, turn off the heat when you are finished, super easy.
Having a Japanese bathroom is not about style, although it certainly can be. It’s about convenience, and it is one of the first projects I will undertake should I ever move back and get my own place in the states. Maybe you should try it too this holiday season.
Gifts Under $2,000
Plane Ticket Abroad
With our world becoming smaller and more interconnected each and every day, it has never been more important to “get out.” Culture clashes have been at the center of many international misunderstandings, and this can be mostly be blamed on a lack of understanding of one another and older generations who didn’t grow up with the opportunity to mingle so frequently across the globe.
Thankfully, in the modern world, it has never been easier to get out and experience a culture foreign to your own. We can only lean on the excuse of ignorance for so long. This holiday season, the absolute best treat you can give yourself is to get out of America, Canada, or the UK and experience a culture that is entirely new. Bonus points if you can’t speak the language!
A single trip abroad can teach you infinitely more about a group of other people than a Wikipedia page, but more importantly, you’ll learn more about yourself. There is nothing more educational than the experience of seeing your country and yourself from the outside looking in.
Plus, you can take plenty of smaller ideas back with you to make adjustments to your everyday life. Eat healthier, exercise better, dress sharper, find nicer gadgets and cleaner modes of transportation. If you have $2,000, roughly the cost of a round trip ticket to Japan from New York City (trust me, I know), then there really is no other alternative to what you should be doing this holiday.
Gifts Under $500
It took a while, but I can finally give the stamp of approval on this new console generation. The PlayStation 4 still has a long way to go to catch up to the lasting power of its three predecessors, but a few decent hits this winter and a solid looking 2015 should be enough to secure it a place under your tree. This is especially true for those who love the kinds of games I am into: Japanese games, indie games, and retro games.
At the same time, the PlayStation 4 is still trying to find that one “killer exclusive” that you can’t buy anywhere else. Bloodborne is the obvious exclusive that Sony can point to in 2015, and Uncharted 4 is also sure to ship quite a few consoles. As it stands now though, my picks for the best games on the console so far are The Evil Within and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, and both can be snagged on the rival Xbox One or the PC.
Further great looking multi-console games include Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Final Fantasy XV, Resident Evil Revelations 2, Batman: Arkham Knight, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and No Man’s Sky.
The PlayStation 4 is also the most accessible in terms of capturing screenshots to share with your friends (or use in reviews!)
It’s taking a while, but these two consoles are finally catching on and establishing an identity of their own separate from the previous generation and the PC market. 2014 hit a bit of a rut with delays pushing most of the biggest games into 2015, but that means that the incoming year is finally going to be the banner year to kick this off right!
Best to buy one of these two consoles this Christmas and get a head start on the games already available. You don’t want to lose them in your backlog.
The real star of the console world though is secretly the Wii U. Keeping alive a tradition of thirty years, Nintendo continues to do what it does best with this console, making great games and refusing to play along nicely with others.
It might not have the support of the AAA market, but Nintendo has enough gas in the old imagination tanks to crank out the best exclusive library on the market. This year is already home to Mario Kart 8, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, and my current favorite game of the year, Bayonetta 2. Let’s not forget last year’s great offerings either like Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, and Pikmin 3.
All wonderful games you can’t find anywhere else. There is also a little title called Super Smash Bros., but more on that later.
Next year has the launch of Xenoblade Chronicles X, Mario Maker, and Yoshi’s Wooly World, and hopefully there will be more information on Star Fox and The Legend of Zelda.
It’s been a tough ride for Nintendo, but refusing to adapt to the Microsoft and Sony model has allowed it to stand out with the best library of exclusives. It has also taken the idea of “social gaming” to new heights with a nice network built within the fabric of its games rather than around them like the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live.
It has the ideas and the software to get it done. Will 2015 be the year Nintendo turns its ship around? Buy a Wii U this holiday to find out.
Gifts Under $250
Super Smash Bros. with GameCube Adaptor and Controller Bundle
It’s been a while since Nintendo had the most talked about game of the holiday season, but that’s just what Super Smash Bros. happens to be. We already have the portable version to tease us, and Nintendo’s release schedule has kept the game on the forefront of fans’ minds as they speculate how the two are going to be different.
The HD graphics are the obvious biggest change to the game, but Nintendo has laid out an explanation of at least 50 ways the Wii U version will be different, including 8-player matches and further playing modes.
And let’s not dodge another huge selling point for the game and this specific bundle. The best and most preferred way to play Super Smash Bros. has always been with a GameCube controller. Maybe the Wii U-pad will be comfortable enough to play the game properly, but in the end, there is no substitute for the real thing. Get this bundle, which includes a controller and four player adapter, if you want the real Smash Bros. experience.
Nintendo’s all-star fighting franchise has always been the biggest staple of each console’s library dating back to the Nintendo 64. Super Smash Bros. is probably the main reason you picked up a Wii U, and if it wasn’t then you should still do it anyway.
This interesting little device has a lot to prove, but the potential is there for something great! The ability to stream PlayStation 3 games through the net and PlayStation 4 games locally is really convenient, and it could be the final stroke publishers need to put a death to video game ownership… for good or evil.
That’s nice and all, but the reason I bought this device was to play PSP and PS Vita games on my television! Sony’s handhelds are a bastion of wonderful Japanese games that are fun on the go but could be even better when sitting in front of a television.
Great games to play for it include the entire Persona series, the Prinny games, Hot Shots Golf , The 3rd Birthday, Ys Seven, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, the Final Fantasy Dissidia games, Half-Minute Hero, and Muramasa Rebirth. The entire compatibility list can be found here.
Sadly, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII never got a digital release, or that could be enough to justify the PS TV on its own!
Gifts Under $50
Video Game HD Remaster Bundles
New video games are great and all, but there is still so much we can learn from the past. A great many games have been given the “HD Remaster” treatment this year, and there is no better way to spend the slow spring and summer months than blasting through your old favorites.
For our modern consoles digging into the previous generation, HD remasters worth revisiting include The Last of Us Remastered, Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition, and Tomb Raider Definitive Edition. Remember that the new version of Grand Theft Auto V is also in the due for release on November 18th on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
The best of these HD remasters though still date back to the PlayStation 2-era with a whole host of wonderful games that can still be played on a PlayStation 3, Wii U, and Xbox 360. The best of these include:
- Final Fantasy X | X2 HD Remaster
- Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 REmix
- Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 REmix
- Devil May Cry HD Collection
- Metal Gear Solid HD Collection
- Zone of the Enders HD Collection
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
- Okami HD
- Resident Evil 4 HD
- Tales of Symphonia Chronicles
- ICO and Shadow of the Colossus HD
All wonderful games, but the HD upgrades and other tweaks are just an extra bonus. The real prize of these bundles and remasters is that they are playable on a modern machine. As gaming gets older and older, it is becoming more and more essential for publishers to make sure that the entirety of gaming history is accessible to younger generations.
Any movie can be played on a DVD and any song can be put on a CD, and the wonderful abilities of digital distribution have made an unprecedented amount of entertainment history available at the click of a button. Gaming as a medium still has a long way to go in terms of learning preservation, and while these HD versions are hardly perfect, they are a step in the right direction. Pick some up to show your support.
Mega Man Animated Series DVD Set
We all have our favorite cartoons from our childhood, but how many of them still hold up? I am a firm supporter of “nostalgia” as a legitimate emotion to have when playing old games, but even I have to put a sock in my mouth when it comes time to talk about The Super Mario Bros. Super Show or Captain N: The Game Master.
With the Mega Man animated TV series from Ruby-Spears Productions though, I don’t have to make any excuses. This series still holds up, and it does so by playing to all the strengths of its source material.
With each episode, our blue hero must thwart the evil plans of Dr. Wily, Proto Man, and their robot minions. The series chose Cut Man and Guts Man as mainstay bumbling sidekicks, but the real excitement comes from seeing which other familiar faces appear from episode to episode. Napalm Man, Air Man, Bubble Man, and even Pharaoh Man, the cartoon does justice to all of Dr. Wily’s creations each and every episode.
The writing isn’t always great, and the canon is totally messed up with Proto Man acting as a villain with Wily, but this is a great cartoon that you can enjoy with your kids. The animation is decent enough, Rush is an enjoyable K-9 sidekick a great sidekick, and man oh man, that intro video still hits all the right places. Let’s see that one more time!
At $3, the new Complete Series edition from Discotek Media is the best way to watch the show. Pick it up for some cross-generational entertainment, and show your kids the kind of entertainment we were subjected to when we were their age